Breathing Life Into Your Characters [NOOK Book]


Create Convincing Characters That Readers—and Editors—Can't Resist!

It's the question that eternally plagues all good writers: How can you describe the thoughts and feelings of characters who have backgrounds or psychological aberrations with which you have no personal experience?

How can you describe the feelings of a drug addict if you've never been one? How can you write about being a prisoner if you've never been to jail? You can do all the...

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Breathing Life Into Your Characters

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Create Convincing Characters That Readers—and Editors—Can't Resist!

It's the question that eternally plagues all good writers: How can you describe the thoughts and feelings of characters who have backgrounds or psychological aberrations with which you have no personal experience?

How can you describe the feelings of a drug addict if you've never been one? How can you write about being a prisoner if you've never been to jail? You can do all the research you want, but the question still remains: How do you convincingly portray characters if you've never lived in their skin?

In Breathing Life Into Your Characters, writing consultant and professional psychotherapist Rachel Ballon, Ph. D., shows you how to get in touch with the thoughts and feelings necessary to truly understand your characters—no matter what their background or life experiences. She'll show you how to:

  • Develop a psychological profile for every character
  • Turn archetypes into conflicted characters
  • Think like a criminal to convincingly write one
  • Reveal personalities through the use of nonverbal communication
In addition, you'll learn how to effectively use Ballon's "Method Writing" system—taught previously only in her writing workshops—to explore your own feelings, memories, and emotions to create characters of astonishing depth and complexity!
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599633701
  • Publisher: F+W Media
  • Publication date: 3/1/2009
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 388,401
  • File size: 880 KB

Meet the Author

Rachel Ballon, Ph.D., is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder and director of the Writer's Center in Los Angeles. She is the author of four other books for Writer's Digest. She has reviewed hundreds of scripts for major Hollywood studios. A master teacher and noted success coach, she has taught as an adjunct professor at USC School of Cinema and Television. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1 writing characters from the inside out 6

The Unconscious

The "Aha" Moment


Write What You Feel, Not What You Know

Chapter 2 ghosts of the past: your characters' backstories 20

Exploring Your Past

Exploring Your Character's Past

The Backstory

Transactional Analysis

Chapter 3 pulling the strings: character motivation 37

Motivating a Main Character: A Scenario

Character Motivation Based on Backstory

Needs and Motivation

Emotions and Motivation

Chapter 4 less of you: creating characters different from yourself 49

Less of You

Your Inner Characters

Method Writing

The Writer as All the Characters

From Real People to Fictional Characters

Knowing Yourself, Knowing Your Characters

Chapter 5 the psychology of characters and the writer: what makes them tick 68

The Psychology of the Writer

The Character's Psychology

Characters From the Inside

Characters and Internal Struggles

Chapter 6 creating your villain: tapping the shadow 84

Tapping Your Shadow

Tapping the Universal Shadow

Tapping Your Villain's Shadow

Profiling Your Villain

Nurture or Nature

Latent Villainous Tendencies

The Disowned Shadow Gone Awry

Shadow Behavior Reflected in Expressions

Making Your Villian Popular

Chapter 7 the heart of drama: injecting feelings into your characters 104

Your Character's Emotional and Psychological World

Your Character's Emotional Transformation

The Emotional Relationship

Mining Your Emotional Depths

Being an Emotional Writer

Chapter 8 coping with conflict: characters' defense mechanisms and masks 129

Emotions and Conflict

Types of Conflict

Sources ofConflict

Reactions to Conflict

Patterns of Conflict

Defense Mechanisms

Protection From Conflict

Conflicts or Choices

Chapter 9 dysfunctional families: secrets, myths, and lies 151

Functional Families

Dysfunctional Families

Family Secrets, Myths, and Lies

Family Rules and Beliefs

Family Injunctions

Family Values and Traditions

Dysfunctional Romantic Relationships

Homeostasis of the Family

Finding Your Character's True Self

Chapter 10 creating real people: disorders and troubled personalities 184

Understanding Troubled Personalities

Neurotics: The Common Variety of Real People

Personality Disorders


Anxiety Disorders


Bipolar Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorders

Psychotics: The Uncommon Variety of Real People

Substance-Related Disorders


Gender Identity Disorders

Eating Disorders

Creating Emotionally Deep Characters

Chapter 11 lasting impressions: body language, dialogue, and subtext 216

Nonverbal Communication

Levels of the Self

Body Language

Dialogue (or What Your Characters Say)

Subtext (or What Your Characters Don't Say)

Emotional Imagery

Interior Monologues

Gestures, Quirks, and Expressions

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Index 239

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2006

    A great character building guidebook

    As a mythologist who works with archetypes, I highly recommend Dr. Rachel Ballon¿s book, ¿Breathing Life Into Your Characters¿. Dr. Ballon¿s book offers a professional¿s insight into what makes characters tick. For the writer, director, or actor, this is invaluable information to help shape your story characters. I have attended seminars at the American Film Institute, UCLA, StoryCon, the Writers Store, and many other venues where Rachel leads people through exercises in understanding characters. I have listened afterwards to their comments. ¿Amazing, I didn¿t know I had that in me.¿ ¿I was afraid at first, but it really opened up a wellspring of emotion.¿ ¿The free-flow helped me free my ideas.¿ ¿There was something my character was hiding and I couldn¿t get past it. Dr. Ballon¿s exercise helped me dig deeper and find the real motivation.¿ These are the sorts of comments her work elicits. The layout of the book makes it easy to locate certain character types and flaws and then goes into clear detail about how to use these flaws to create believable story characters. Buy this book, read it through for a better understanding of human psychology, then come back to it again and again to fine-tune your characters.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2005

    As a writer, this is the most important book I've read

    I have a shelf full of writing books, but this is the one that has pushed my writing to a new level. If getting to know yourself better appeals to you--and if you are a writer, it should--Ballon's exercises amount to therapeutic devices that translate 'method acting' into 'method writing.' Actors are taught to draw on their own experiences to find the emotions their characters need to express; apply that concept to your fictional characters and you will be amazed. You can assign physical attributes and personality quirks and occupations and family histories to your characters until the cows come home, but nothing will make them as real as giving them your fear and anger and self-doubt and sadness. Ballon encourages you to recall personal experiences that relate to whatever dilemmas your characters are facing. This not only draws out buried emotions you need to release, but also gives you great things for your characters to think, feel, and say. Some of the exercises should be done at home, alone, with a glass of wine; others are fine on a hot summer day under an umbrella at Starbucks. Some examples: I used one exercise to ratchet up an argument between my hero and heroine. The question was, 'What do you care about enough that you would die for it?' What came out blew me away. It made the scene a thousand times more passionate and more interesting and revealed so much more about both characters. Another exercise, in a chapter titled 'Dysfunctional Families: Secrets, Myths, and Lies,' showed me how to mine the complexities of the relationship between my heroine and her mother by exposing the mother's jealousy of her husband's bond with his 'golden child.' I plan to use this book whenever I have a flat scene that doesn't quite work...all the while laying to rest my inner demons!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 5, 2012

    Informative but Oh, so repetitive

    Breathing Life into your Characters
    How to give your characters emotional and psychological depth
    Rachel Ballon, PhD ©2003
    Writers Digest Press
    ISBN 1-58297-181-1 (ppbk.)
    238 pp. plus index

    The author is a psychologist and obviously knows a great deal about psychology and emotions. The book is NOT well written because the author repeats statements and ideas over and over, sometimes two or three times within the same paragraph.

    If you can put up with the repetition, which feels like Ballon doesn’t trust her readers to understand, or is padding the book to produce more pages, you can learn some facts about writing better characters.

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  • Posted April 26, 2009

    Innovative and Compelling!

    I just got this book as a birthday present and read it over the weekend very quickly. Now I go back and read again to really think about the exercises and create a personality analysis sheet for each of my characters. It is a powerful book and will assist me with future writing projects. Thanks! From Colorado

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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